Are High Protein Diets Dangerous?

(Mayo Clinic)– For most people, a high protein diet generally isn’t harmful, particularly when followed for a short time. Such diets may help with weight loss by making you feel fuller.

However, the risks of using a high protein diet with carbohydrate restriction for the long term are still being studied. Several health have been cited and may result if a high-protein diet is followed for an extended time:

  • Some high-protein diets restrict carbohydrate intake so much that they can result in nutritional deficiencies or insufficient fiber, which can cause problems such as bad breath, headache and constipation.
  • Some protein sources — like fatty cuts of meat, whole dairy products, and other high-fat foods — can raise cholesterol, increasing your chance of heart disease. However, studies showed that people on the Atkins diet for up to 2 years actually had decreased “bad” cholesterol levels.
  • Kidney problems. If you have any kidney problems, eating too much protein puts added strain on your kidneys. This could worsen kidney function.
  • Osteoporosis and kidney stones. When you’re on a high-protein diet, you may urinate more calcium than normal. There are conflicting reports, but some experts think this could make osteoporosis and kidney stones more likely.

If you want to follow a high-protein diet, choose your protein wisely. Good choices include soy protein, beans, nuts, fish, skinless poultry, lean beef, pork and low-fat dairy products. Avoid processed meats.

For the most part however the decrease in kidney function and the idea that a high protein diet leads to bone density loss is largely a myth. To learn more about why these are not actually the case take a look at Jeff Nippard’s Video from January about high protein diets.

That is not to say that the protein you do intake does not have some effect. The quality of the carbohydrates you eat is important too. Cut processed carbs from your diet, and choose carbs that are high in fiber and nutrient-dense, such as whole grains and vegetables and fruit.

It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a weight-loss diet. And that’s especially important in this case if you have any chronic health condition.

Finally, keep in mind that weight loss may be temporary, especially if you return to your previous way of eating. The best eating plan is one that you can stick to long-term.

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

For an in-depth analysis of the effects of a protein-rich diet read this article by Precision Nutrition.

What this means for you

If you’re a “regular person” who just wants to be healthy and fit:

  • If you’re over 65, eat more protein.
    This helps slow down age-related muscle loss, which improves long term health and quality of life.
  • If you’re a plant-based eater: Plan your meals carefully.
    Without animal products, you’ll probably have to work a little harder to get enough protein. You might consider adding a plant-based protein powder to help yourself out.

If you’re an athlete:

  • Follow our PN portion recommendations.
    We suggest a portion of lean protein at every meal, to keep that protein pool full and ready to help your body repair and rebuild. You may need more than this if you are especially active.
  • Boost your protein intake around exercise. Eating protein around workouts may improve your body’s response to exercise. If you can tolerate whey protein, that’s one of the best options. Or, stick with real food.
  • Increase plant based protein sources. The more the merrier.

If you’re a fitness professional / nutrition coach:

  • Help people understand as much as they need to understand in order to make an informed choice, with your guidance.
    Your clients will likely have questions. Prepare your answers in advance.
  • Refer out as needed.
    If you think a client might have an underlying health condition, work with their doctor to make sure they don’t have kidney or liver disease that a high-protein diet should be avoided.
  • Stay within your scope of practice.
    Remember: Unless you’re licensed for medical nutrition therapy, you’re not authorized to prescribe any type of diet for medical conditions. Don’t tell your client with kidney disease that they should go on a high or low diet to treat their disease.


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